Team captain Jason Jaffray stopped short of saying some members of the St. John’s IceCaps have checked out early in this doomed 2012-13 American Hockey League campaign, but called attention to the fact changes must be made if the IceCaps are to at least save face through the final 18 games of the regular season.
The IceCaps were swept for the sixth time on Mile One Centre ice this season, losing a pair of games to the Manchester Monarchs Friday and Saturday to fall even further out of playoff contention in the AHL’s Eastern Conference. The IceCaps, losers of 10 of their last dozen games, are 14th in the East, 11 points out of eight place and the final playoff berth, separated by a half-dozen teams.
More frustrating is the fact that not only are the IceCaps continuing to shoot themselves in the foot, they’re supplying the ammo and loading the shotgun. Friday, the IceCaps picked up a point in the 5-4 Manchester win, but going to a shootout was hardly consolation after St. John’s allowed the game-tying goal with 43 seconds left in regulation time, after squandering a two-goal lead on three different occasions.
Saturday night, the game was scoreless for nearly two periods of play, until the Monarchs scored with 3.1 seconds left in the second, a period in which the IceCaps outshot their guests 14-5.
And when the IceCaps did tie the score 2:06 into the third, Manchester potted what turned out to be the game-winner on, of all things, a two-on-one during a St. John’s power-play, the eighth time this season the IceCaps have surrendered a shorthanded goal.
“The level of frustration (in the IceCaps’ dressing room) is very high ... extremely high,” Jaffray said.
“Coach (Keith McCambridge) has done a great job trying to stay positive, trying to motivate the guys to do what they need to do to get wins, but sooner or later that speech is going to get old. Things are going to have to change. We have to start doing something different.”
Coach meets with ‘leadership group’
Jaffray said he and McCambridge met Saturday morning to discuss the mood in the room — McCambridge brushed it off as a regular meeting with his “leadership” group — with the captain reporting he doesn’t get the feeling of quit amongst the IceCaps.
And why would they pack it in, if the players hope to remain gainfully employed after this season? Of the current roster, only six IceCaps are signed for next season — Jason King, Ben Chiarot, Ivan Telegin, Cody Sol, Julian Melchiori and Carl Klingberg.
Aside from Richard Petiot , Josh Lunden and Josh Godfrey (tryout contracts), each and every other player on the roster is either a restricted or unrestricted free agent.
“If you’ve checked out with 20 games left in the season, it’s going to be a long summer for you and you’re not going to have too many teams knocking at your door come contract time,” Jaffray said.
“There are a lot of things that can be motivating you at this time of the year, playoffs and contracts among them. If guys are checked out, it’s not something that I see in there right now.”
The IceCaps have lost an incredible 339 man-days to injury this season, not to mention their best two defencemen — Paul Postma and Zach Redmond — to the Winnipeg Jets (Derek Meech is also in Winnipeg on recall).
Still, the IceCaps have received decidedly poor seasons from players expected to be key contributors, namely Spencer Machacek, Aaron Gagnon, Carl Klingberg and Bern Maxwell.
Rather, the best St. John’s forwards of late have been second-year pro Eric O’Dell, ECHL call-up Kael Mouillierat and the 31-year-old Jaffray.
McCambridge maintains he liked what he saw in his charges on the weekend, despite the outcome.
“You can see in the game tonight, the message is getting across. The guys are playing hard ... the guys care. They haven’t stopped playing hard. I have to give them every bit of credit for the way they’re playing.
“I’m just really frustrated for them, frustrated that we’re not getting points when they give everything they have. That’s tough for a professional athlete, when you pour everything into the game and you come out on the wrong end.
“I’m proud of the effort they’ve given, how hard they played tonight, last night, Tuesday in Hamilton (a 4-3 loss). That’s everything we got, everything laying it out there. Guys are blocking shots, finishing checks, playing hard.”
But sports is a results-based business and the IceCaps, simply put, have not and are not getting it done.
Which has Jaffray, for one, hinting at a change of some sort.
Question is, what change?
“I wish I could tell you what the problem is,” Jaffray said. “I thought we outplayed, outchanced, outshot them (Monarchs). At the end of the day, it’s another loss.
“You hope at this time of the year those are the kind of games you grind out and get points to climb back into playoff race and right now it’s just not good enough.”
O’Dell had four points Friday
Friday’s loss ruined a four-point night for O’Dell (two goals, two assists) and a three-point effort from Mouillierat. Jaffray currently the Icecaps with 33 points, with O’Dell close behind with 32 and Mouillierat, a December callup from Idaho of the ECHL, with 28 points in 36 games.
“O’Dell has made huge strides,” Jaffray said. “The start of the year, first few games, he was a healthy scratch. Who would think he’d be our leading goalscorer and the guy we look to score big goals at big moments?
“Give him credit, he’s that guy right now.”
Mouillierat was a candidate for player of the week last weekend when he back-to-back games of four assists and a goal and two assists.
“He is making 100 per cent the most of his ice time,” McCambridge said. “He can be a top six guy or a bottom six guy.”
The IceCaps have the next four days to work on things in practice, but it won’t get any easier next weekend when St. John’s plays host to the Conference-leading Syracuse Crunch.
“The breaking point for me,” McCambridge said, “is when mistakes are happening because of a lack of effort. For me, the effort is there. It’s not from lack of trying. It’s a player trying to make a play. He’s not coasting through and throwing the puck away. He’s giving an effort.”
To date, that effort has not be good enough. Not even close.